An Auckland businessman who paid some of his workers just $6 an hour will continue to serve a more than four year prison sentence after losing his appeal.
Mohammed Atiqul Islam was jailed last May for what a judge described as "a kind of economic slavery" before taking his case to the Court of Appeal in February.
He and his lawyer, Paul Wicks QC, attempted to reduce the four year and five month jail term.
Islam was jointly charged alongside his partner Nafisa Ahmed by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) after it was discovered the Bengali couple were exploiting workers at the Royal Sweets Cafe, their sweets making business in Auckland.
Ahmed was jailed alongside Islam for two years and six months.
They had paid their employees as little as $6 an hour, failed to pay them for all of the hours they worked or for any holiday pay.
Today, the Court of Appeal released its decision - dismissing the appeal and condemning Islam.
"The offending was sustained, deliberate and repeated ... Mr Islam was well aware of the minimum standards of pay in this country," Justice Simon Moore wrote in the judgement.
"Not only did he remunerate his employees at levels grossly below the minimum statutory standards, he actively took steps to keep them in his service through threats and other actions."
The couple's offending was uncovered after two of the chefs at the Royal Sweets Cafe, also known as the Royal Bengal Cafe, made complaints to New Zealand authorities about their working conditions.
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The chefs' passports had been confiscated immediately after they arrived in New Zealand from Bangladesh after responding to advertisements for work in Bengali newspapers, the court heard at the pair's sentencing.
Those employees on temporary visas were also encouraged by Islam and Ahmed to breach their visa conditions by working more hours.
"There can be no doubt that [Islam's] employees were vulnerable, particularly the chefs who relied on their employment to remain in New Zealand," Justice Moore said.
"They had little opportunity to form friendships or connections outside their work. Their ability to communicate with others was very limited. They were geographically and culturally isolated. They were reliant on Mr Islam and Ms Ahmed to support them in every sense."
In contrast, the Court of Appeal judgment read, Islam is highly educated with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business.
He has also held positions with the ANZ, Baycorp, Bank of New Zealand, Watercare and Spark, the decision states.
"He is completely familiar with modern New Zealand society and its commercial setting," Justice Moore said.
"The level of harm the workers were subjected to went well beyond the underpayments, substantial as they were. They were forced to work extreme hours well in excess of the representations made to them at the time of their engagement."
Some of the workers had borrowed money from relatives and friends to pay for the move to New Zealand but with no effective income they were unable to repay the loans.
"That this offending was driven by commerciality is a particularly aggravating factor," Justice Moore said.
"Mr Islam and his business were direct beneficiaries of the deprivation and exploitation of his workers. It is no hyperbole to condemn Mr Islam's conduct as economic and social slavery."
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At the appeal hearing, the court heard Islam was also yet to pay more than $100,000 in wages to staff.
"None of these arrears have been paid and there seems little prospect they ever will be," the Court of Appeal's decision reads.
Islam and Ahmed, who are both New Zealand citizens, were also charged but found not guilty at a lengthy Auckland District Court trial of human trafficking.
It was one of only a handful human trafficking prosecutions in New Zealand's legal history.
Islam was found guilty after a trial in the Auckland District Court last year on 10 charges of exploitation and seven other immigration related offences.
Also known as Kafi Islam, he was also found guilty of a further three charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Ahmed, an accountant by trade, was found guilty of seven exploitation charges.
Human trafficking cases in New Zealand
Also this year, horticultural "slave master" Joseph Auga Matamata was found guilty on 23 of 24 charges for dealing in slaves and human trafficking.
The Hastings man's offending spanned 25 years from late 1994 to April 2019.
The first human trafficking charges in New Zealand were brought by INZ in August 2015.
Two men were charged for arranging by deception the entry of Indian nationals into New Zealand. However, they were both found not guilty of the trafficking charges, with one found guilty on other charges.
The first person to be convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand was Faroz Ali, who orchestrated an elaborate scam to entice and exploit Fijian workers.
He was sentenced in December 2016 to nine years and six months' imprisonment and ordered to pay $28,167 in reparation to his victims.
Ali's lawyer, Mohammed Idris Hanif, was also later found guilty of knowingly providing false and misleading information to INZ which helped enable the offending.
Hanif was sentenced in 2018 to 10 months' home detention with six months' post detention conditions and ordered to pay reparations to the three Fijian workers who were exploited.
He was last year struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors by the New Zealand Lawyers & Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
Human trafficking is considered to be the second largest crime in the world and reaps billions of dollars in profits every year.